5 May 09 | Chad W. Post

As pointed out at the Literary Saloon, the new issue of the Literary Review at The Hindu has a couple of articles about India’s presence at the recent London and Abu Dhabi book fairs.

It’s interesting how different these two articles are—the one on the ADIBF is more focused on India’s entrance into the Arab book market, whereas the one on the LBF takes a look at the book market in India.

Starting with Urvashi Butalia’s conclusions about the ADIBF:

Never slow to sense when a market is ready to open up, many Western publishers are already making a place for themselves in the Arab world. It’s rumoured that Penguin is soon scheduled to launch a Penguin Arabia — on the model of and perhaps inspired by Penguin India — Bloomsbury already has an overseas office in Qatar, Mills and Boon are big in the Arab world, and others are standing at the sidelines and waiting.

Nor have Indians been slow to sense a growing market. DeeCee publishers of Kerala have a large setup in Dubai that caters to the considerable Malayali population in the Gulf. Young Indian entrepreneurs have set up distribution agencies that cater to universities and schools, Jamia Milia Islamia in Delhi has put in place a translation programme whereby 25 titles from India will be translated into Arabic and five vice versa — and this is only a beginning — and Panther, a publisher of high quality medical DVDs is listed as one of their star attractions by one of the leading Gulf distributors, Kasha, who are based in Jordan.

Clearly, things are changing in the world of Arab writing and publishing. Like India, Arab countries provide one of the potentially most exciting markets of the world, and perhaps the day is not far off when Arab writers will start crowding the numbers of Booker prize winners in the way that Indians have begun to do.

This really echoes the sense that I came away with as well. Despite its distribution problems, the Arab world is a burgeoning market and a lot of publishers are figuring out how to best benefit from this.

Which is actually pretty similar to how the rest of the world looks at India’s book market as well, as Janhavi Acharekar’s piece on the London Book Fair makes clear:

A few years ago, at one of the panel discussions held during the Kitab festival in Mumbai, Antara Dev Sen was questioned about the coming of age of Indian literature. Her astute reply was that it was really the Indian economy that had come of age and the spotlight was therefore on everything Indian, including literature. That India had always had an excellent and ancient tradition of writing but the world had only zoomed in on it with the country’s booming stock market. [. . .]

To the West, India is the only English language book market with a potential for growth. But what did the Book Fair spell for India? For one, it showcased its new writing, poetry and fiction in translation, children’s writing and non-fiction to the world. “In the West, we continue to associate Indian writing with Amitav Ghosh and Arundhati Roy. It’s nice to learn about contemporary writers who haven’t yet found a readership here,” confessed a member of the audience. The concerns of the fair had to do with emerging literary trends in India seen — as Chief Editor and Publisher of HarperCollins India, V.K. Karthika, points out — in the interview of her and bestselling author Chetan Bhagat on BBC World Service Radio. “The fact that they chose to interview an author associated with popular fiction is telling,” she remarks. Literary agent Jayapriya Vasudevan, founder of Jacaranda Press, supports the view. “Popular Indian writing is being read now as opposed to just literary fiction 10 years ago. An unknown author has every chance of selling today,” she says. Vasudevan ought to know. Jacaranda, India’s first literary agency, represents new publishing house Blaft known for its quirky books and translations of Tamil and Hindi pulp fiction, which have elicited much interest at the fair. [. . .]

However, the fair also displayed the differences in literary concerns and trends between the East and the West. While the latter spoke of creative and life-writing courses, ‘enhanced’ e-books and technological innovations such as the Espresso book machine that prints books on demand, in-store, India was still concerned with widening its reach in the print arena. “E-books are not likely to play a big role in India at least for the next decade or so,” says Karthika. Our only association with other media was the talk on literature in cinema that included on its panel Javed Akhtar, Rachel Dwyer and Prasoon Joshi, among others. A sign, perhaps, that Indian literature has yet to truly come of age.

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